Pure Science and Maths

Freedom from Homework

A child’s lament: Why can’t our teachers just teach us everything we need to know here at school? We are young and busy kids of the 21st century. Academics are fine but we have lot more to do like play, socialize, be physically active, keep up with technology, read and hinge ourselves to a hobby. In short, we don’t have time for homework and we really don’t like it. We need freedom!

Poor students! Yes, the children are the only people who live and understand what is going on in a classroom. Unfortunately, they are also the only ones most often blamed and least often heard. By now, you must be thinking that I am going to advocate for these students; let me remind you – I am a teacher 🙂

It’s time to look at homework from all perspectives. Why do we give homework if the students don’t like it and it’s no fun for the teachers too? It is an equal task for teachers to assign, check and grade them. So why do we have home assignments? As an educator, I think at some point or the other, we all attempt to answer it. Do share your opinion in the comment section. Now, allow me to share:

  1. Reinforcement – Homework reinforces the concepts taught in a classroom. The more you work with them, the more likely you are to actually learn them. Our school time tables are usually designed in a way that the students hardly get any time to reflect. One period after another. When students learn in the classroom, they are using their short-term or working memory. On leaving the classroom, the information in the working memory is replaced by the topic in the next class. In few minutes the entire set up is changed, every variable in the classroom gets a new value.  Have you met your student in a new setting, for example in a park or a mall? Do they respond in a similar way as they do in the classroom? Definitely NO; Even classmates behave differently inside and outside the school. But once we have a strong bond and meetings are regular, we see very less variation in the behavior. Gradually we become independent of the environment. Similarly, students must regularly interact with knowledge in the different environments. They need to access information in ways that are relevant to their world and they must practice their skills in different situations. Education researcher Professor John Hattie, who has ranked various influences on student learning and achievement, told the BBC in 2014 “The worst thing you can do with homework is give kids projects; the best thing you can do is reinforce something you’ve already learned.” And I want you to remember this “Homework is not a punishment, rather it is a reinforcement.”
  2. Parent’s involvement and habit formation–  Homework gives parents a chance to see what their children are learning in school. Most of the time, children only open their school bag when there is a homework. In such cases, homework becomes the only reason for parents to interact with their children concerning education. I have observed a pattern in the graph of parents involvement against the standard in which their children study. The slope is mostly negative and finally, in higher grades, the parents are completely off the track, they completely miss the bus. But if the teachers are consistent, the students form a habit.

    The graph has been used for representation purpose only. It is not an actual data.

    A good habit that can transform them into independent and life long learners. Over the period of time, students learn the hard lesson that some things in life come with no options; it has to be done. Even if one doesn’t wish to, one has to get married one day!

  3. Have the edge over – Homework encourages a learner to explore subjects more fully than classroom time permits. The acid test is seeing whether you truly understand the material and can do the work on your own. This is especially true with mathematics. When I solve problems of maths in the classroom, every student believes that s/he has understood the underlying concept and they will be able to solve more problems of that nature. But in reality, every student may not. They miss out on the ‘unseen’ steps. Homework, in such cases, help them to come out of their false belief and put them in real action. So whenever I assign a homework, I ask my students to do it themselves and if they are unable to do it, I accept the original and incorrect work. It helps me to modify my teaching strategy to facilitate better learning. It works just like the formative assessments. In science classes, homework is critically important. Students see concepts in a whole new light; most of the time, they are asked to write what they observe. Open ended questions light curiosity and motivate the learners to stretch their imagination. They come out with creative ideas and more follow up questions. And those extra minutes and hours logged at home help a learner to gain confidence in the subject.
  4. It’s fun too – Homework gives an excuse to a student to use gadgets, surf the internet, download and print resources. It helps your child learn to look out for resources and put them to use wisely. No child in my class is away from video games, nor am I. So we found an interesting way to engage ourselves. I design games for them and they play at home. So our new way of engaging with devices at home is through homework. I am very thankful to the creators of quizizz.com

I would strongly recommend you to create your own quiz on the platform. I can share one of my quizzes right away. Go to join.quizizz.com and use code 009534. Enjoy a 15 question quiz on basic addition and subtraction meant for my 5th graders. The code expires on 30th August, so hurry up!

In our next post, we would like to discuss more about homework. If you have any thing to share, please do comment. Thanks for your time and enjoy the videos:

The Science Express at Mumbai, India

Mumbai July 19, 2017

After a bit of delay in the opening ceremony, one could see the emerging strength of Mumbaikars on platform number 10 at the CST railway station. Science enthusiasts, curious children, educators and eager parents of school-going children were lined up to enter the science express. On the first day of the 3-day halt of the Science Express Climate Action Special (SECAS), it received an overwhelming response despite heavy rains in the city.


The polite, yet firm security guards with an enthusiastic team of volunteers made the atmosphere very joyful and friendly. Discipline and Scientific Tempers, both, were kept in check. Rahul, one of the volunteers from Tamil Nadu, shared his experience with SECAS right from the beginning of this year. The team of 30 plus volunteers with a mixed group of undergraduates, bachelors in science and Ph.D. holders: together take this express to different cities with full horse power.


Visitors with a bag full of patience stood in the queue for hours. The theme being on climate change, one could not feel the outside heat once they enter the fully air-conditioned train. The interior was colorful, bright and pleasant. It was a relief to finally step in the express.

A very positive start with the hope to save our planet whose temperature has gone up by 0.85 degrees Celcius from 1880 to 2012. The journey of initial 10 coaches started with a very informative display of the recent changes in our climate and concluded with various achievements in research on climate change by different government bodies. On the way, the visitors were not only given a bunch of information but also equipped with some really do-able action items. Right from using LED bulbs to keep the AC temperature at 25-degree Celcius, from using our rich culture of preserving food items to optimization of the natural resource for example by using public means of transportation and so on… were described in detail.  Oh, how can we not talk about the special coaches called Kids Zone and JOS (Joy Of Science) hands-on lab dedicated for students from grades 1 to 10? Earnest parents stood outside this special laboratory on wheels, waiting for their children to come out and share their experiences. The demonstrations ranged from optical illusion, chemistry, and miracles. It was truly awesome as the participants were given many take aways while they learned the concepts behind these fascinating activities. Small kids used modest balloons and straws to unfold the basic concepts in science. After all their standings, it ended with a smile and tons of learning. The express was truly expressive!


One takeaway for you from the science express:

“Let me guess your birthday now!”

Look at the below grid…, in which grid do you see your birth day?


Shhh… don’t tell me the number, just tell me the grids…I will do little maths!

Once I know the grid(s) that contain your birthday. I will secretly add the numbers from the 1st box of those grids. Yes, it is possible to have your birthdays in more than one grid. For example, your birthday is on 31st (Just like me!). Check all the grids, in this case, you can see 31 on every grid, so we shall add the numbers from the 1st box of every grid (i.e. 1 +2 + 4 + 8 +16) which is 31. You can even try it for your birth month. It’s very simple but it works 🙂

If you are still thinking to take your kids to the science express do take them. If you are worried of the rains and the long queues then better visit Nehru Science Centre. Which is open for you since 1985 at Worli.

Image Gallery – Fun with Newton

Fun with Newton

The images from the science workshop titled ‘Fun with Newton’ are ready to be shared. In three days, three hours each day students learned the three laws of motion through making; the learners created scribbling robots, designed the fastest ramp for their car and made movables using balloons. Each maker activity was associated with one law of motion. A detailed article is on its way…

35. Happy Ending

Till then enjoy the images by following the link:https://goo.gl/MZNdta

#Mathematics – Remedial Teaching as Concept Class

I believe we all would have seen this pattern, a high scoring student keeps scoring high throughout his/her school life. Similarly, we have also seen (actually ignored) students who have always been average or just passing. Very rarely we find someone disrupting this pattern.

Today, we see many schools having a remedial program for the below average students. A program mostly headed by a special educator; it is interesting to see it in action, isn’t it? Let me brief it – in a classroom, a student is marked as a slow learner by the homeroom or subject teacher. The student is sent to the special educator, who initially diagnose the student. The diagnosis is mostly dependent on the teacher’s inputs (Actually it should consist of students written material and analysis of thinking processes using oral interview techniques)*. Once confirmed, the student is asked to miss the regular classes and attend the remedial program designed by the special educator. The student is now away from the classmates, has no idea what is happening in the class, misses social interaction and is now labeled in a negative way. The school may take pride by hiring a special educator and running the program but who will get back the student on track?

The term remedial refers to correcting or improving deficient skills in a specific subject. It by no means categories students as slow learners or underachievers, but rather should be available for all students. For example, a high achiever can also struggle to understand a concept; unless taught differently he/she may continue to feel low. For a long time, I struggled with LCM and GCD.

The Idea of ‘Concept Class’

A good idea to structure a remedial program would be by categorizing mathematics according to its strands like numeration, computation, measurement, geometry and data handling. Each strand can be subcategorized as concepts and each concept can be diagnosed separately for an individual student.

Doing so will let us plot a graph of each student’s level of understanding on y-axis versus concepts taught on the x-axis.

Student vs concept

Looking at the graph, it is easier to say which student and concept need remedial teaching. I believe as maths teachers, we would enjoy plotting graphs and analyse them. Our simple strategy would be to identify students and without disturbing their classroom routine, we can ask their parents to enroll for a ‘concept class’.

Concept Class in Action:

In the past, the emphasis was on ‘getting the right answers’ whereas today emphasis must be on mathematical literacy. So asking the student to solve an easier or additional worksheet won’t help much. In the concept class, teachers would give concrete examples before proceeding to abstract concepts by way of simple and easy steps at a pace in line with the learning abilities of students. The teacher would devise different learning activities after identifying the different learner type (MI theory). It is more effective for teachers to adopt a series of relevant and simple teaching activities than assigning one long teaching activity since students may acquire the required knowledge and skills through diversified activities. Students with learning difficulties are less competent in understanding written language. Therefore, remedial teachers would give students short and clear instructions to avoid confusion.

With fewer students in the Concept Class, teachers can design interesting activities coupled with reward scheme to stimulate students’ interest. It is most important to help students overcome their learning difficulties so that they may gain a sense of achievement and recover their confidence and interest in learning. Obviously, a teacher would only focus on core learning aspects in-depth and application whereas materials in the advanced learning aspects may be streamlined or appropriately selected for teaching. The idea still remains the same ‘get the students back on track’.

Seat arrangements of students should be flexible to meet the specific teaching purposes of each learning activity. For example, teachers and students may form a circle when holding discussions; and the two students or group members involved may sit together during peer group or small group learning. Remedial teachers may have to explain to the parents about the characteristics and abilities of their children so that they may help their children to learn in a pleasurable manner.

Apart from teaching the concept in mathematics, a concept class should help students develop good learning habits and gain back the confidence in the subject, that in turn will help students to master basic self-learning skills and abilities.

P.S.* – Check ‘The Etiquette of Diagnosis’ (Janet K. Scheer, 1980)

#Mathematics – Mistake versus Misconception

First things first – before we start discussing different strategies in remedial teaching, in my opinion, it would be a great idea to walk through some common mistakes and misconceptions related to mathematics. As we agreed in our previous post, that every child has its own way of learning; in this post, we shall see how each child makes mistakes differently. 🙂 And yes, mistakes are different from misconceptions. This is where a teacher needs to be sensitive and sharp enough to differentiate between the two. Let us begin the diagnosis!

The Difference Between a Mistake and Misconception:

Here is a Grade 2 student’s response to a given set of questions: try to identify the misconception in the following two problems.

a. Use < as ‘is less than’ and > as ‘is greater than’ signs to compare and order numbers:

  1. 73 < 79
  2. 25 = 25
  3. 45 < 56
  4. 51 < 49

b. Add two digit numbers:


By now you would have understood the learner’s misconception; somewhere s/he is struggling with the basic concept of place value, isn’t it?

Just look at the a.4. (51 < 49), the learner seems to have compared the one’s place values; 1 in 51 with the 9 in 49 and thus, we see the alligator’s mouth open towards 49 instead of 51. A similar mistake due to misconception can be seen in b.2. (28 + 56 = 714), wherein the one’s place has been added to get 14 and the ten’s place adds up to 7 – instead of carrying 1 for addition in the ten’s place, it remains below, and hence, getting a result of 714 instead of 84. If you have observed something else too, please do mention in the comment below.

As a teacher correcting tons of pages daily and beginning to get insensitive over a period of time, the teacher would not mind putting a big cross to the above answers. With good intent, s/he would also give additional worksheets to solve (most of the time downloaded from the internet). Here is another thing about ready made stuff: the beautifully designed mark sheet or score card may even say that the learner’s understanding in ‘comparing and ordering numbers’ is 75% and is likely to be promoted to next level. Now as s/he progresses to the next grade, the learner has to deal with 3 to 4 digit numbers. And the new errors would look like this ‘1105 < 999’. In this case, the ready made stuff didn’t help in learning but surely in the promotion (of error). The learner is likely to continue to get such answers unless someone takes a little moment to reflect as to how is s/he arriving at the incorrect answer consistently. Which according to the learner is the correct answer but there is no iota of doubt in the learner’s mind!

Here is the fine line between the two… Remember mistakes are usually one-off. If the problem is shown again to the learner, s/he may figure out the mistake because mistakes are usually done due to carelessness. But if the learner continues to make similar error confidently then it has to do with misconception.

I love understanding things this way – ‘All misconceptions lead to mistakes but all mistakes are not misconceptions’.

Check out some interesting examples on misconception from math4teaching.com by author Erlina. Couple of them given below:

Did we not learn that the greater the opening of an angle, the bigger it is? So, angle A is less than angle B in the figure below.


Isn’t it that the base is the one lying on the ground?


Whether you are a maths teacher or not, in life we all make mistakes. So if we keep making mistakes, we keep learning from them. But remember, they get serious if hidden or done consistently and consciously.

Here is an interesting idea about multiplication – ‘If we multiply two numbers, we get a bigger number’. Tell us if this is a true fact or a misconception and do justify your answer in the comment section below.

I am eagerly waiting to discuss ‘Remedial Teaching Strategies’ in our next post.


#Mathematics – Remedial Teaching

Having discussed the issue of Maths Anxiety in our earlier posts, I would like to get on a soapbox and talk about Remedial Teaching in Mathematics.

Initially, I didn’t believe in remedial teaching; for me, a good maths teacher was the one who could make students understand every concept in the textbook (fun included) in a given amount of time (as prescribed by the school) with a very marginal delta between student’s performance (Either A or A* ). After failing to do so in last three years of teaching, I have realized that either I am not a ‘good’ maths teacher or I need to change my definition and accept the ground reality.

Here is what I think now, based on real experience and facts – irrespective of how good a teacher is; in almost every classroom, there will be at least one student that needs remediation in maths. And if the classroom strength is more than 30, then the numbers only multiply. As an educator who believes in good learning for every child, I feel it is very important to accept the fact and carve out a plan to deal with the situation that we are in. The problem is not as traumatic as the word ‘remedial teaching’ may sound it to be. Actually, remedial teaching is nothing but helping a student who is experiencing difficulties so that they can understand and master the concept with which they are struggling. In fact, that is fundamental to teaching.

Why Remedial Teaching is often associated with Maths?

Sequence in MathsDoes that make Maths a difficult subject? Certainly not! Mathematics has this special characteristic of being sequential in nature. In maths, each concept is the foundation for next new learning, and when a student has not mastered one concept they are unable to move on to the other concept.

As the class progresses, the student who struggled to understand the basics develops low self-confidence which may lead to fear, dislike or discomfort with the subject resulting in ‘Maths Anxiety‘. In such cases, remediation helps to get the student back on track so they can continue their learning on the maths continuum. We would not list the learning difficulties associated with these type of learners; instead look at the objectives of remedial teaching.

Objectives of Remedial Teaching

Each student is different in terms of learning ability, academic standards, classroom discipline, academic performance, and even choosing a tuition teacher (in Asian context). Yes, each student has his own way of learning. The aim of remedial teaching is to provide learning support to students who lag far behind their counterparts in school performance. By adapting school curricula and teaching strategies, teachers can provide learning activities and practical experiences to students according to their abilities and needs. In simple words, we need to ‘customize our lesson plans for a particular student‘, in order to help him/her consolidate the basic knowledge in the subject: master the learning methods, strengthen the confidence and enhance the effectiveness of learning. Do everything to get them back on track.Everest_kalapatthar_crop

For those who worry too much about rigid Academic Standards,  we have to ask them: “Do every mountaineer have to climb Mt. Everest?” or “Do we really need to be a mountaineer to derive pleasure from walking up a hill?” It need not have to be the Everest all the time!

Enjoying something means being able to participate with confidence and take pleasure from the experience. Letting the students enjoy according to their strengths and conquer each of the little hills is an Everest in itself.

I am sure we all would have come across different strategies for ‘remedial teaching’! In my next post, we shall explore and discuss some good ones. Stay tuned and be on track!

#3 Fixing Science – 6 Principles of GH

In our previous post, we got to know about Genius Hour, in this post after briefly discussing why GH we shall discuss the 6 principles of GH.

Why students need Genius Hour?

In essence, high school students have spent most of their academic lives being told what to do. Their grades are then dependent on how well they completed the assigned tasks. Most teenagers spend their free time doing things they are “not told to do”. For example, most parents aren’t yelling at their son to play video games, or at their daughter to spend three hours on Facebook. These actions are done because teenagers want to do them (and in part because they are told many times not to do this). My class agreed that most teenagers “want to do what they want to do, and not what others tell them”.

Imagine one project that will teach:

  • Goal Setting
  • Implementing Goals
  • Reflecting and Redirecting Goals
  • Showcasing Goals

Genius Hour can do all of the above.  By allowing students to choose any goal, accomplishment, project of their choice, and then guide the students through the process, we can give them the foundation of successful autonomous learning.

I found this interesting post on 6 principles of GH by Terry Heick on teachthought.com; thought to share it with you guys…enjoy the post!

6 principles of GH

  1. Sense of Purpose

Students must find their own sense of purpose in what they study, make sense of, and create. The context and motivation are no longer entirely academic, which forces both the student and teachers to make adjustments.

  1. Design

Without teachers “packaging” content that frames and scaffold content, students are left to design their own learning experiences.

  1. Inquiry & Navigation

Through surveying possibility, navigation of unfiltered content, gathering information, and narrowed research, students make sense of ideas important to them. This navigation and survey of possibility then leads to more narrow inquiry and research. In this way, inquiry-based learning has significant overlap with Genius Hour.

  1. Create

Whether students “make,” publish, design, act, or do, “creating” is core to Genius Hour. There is always a visible product or function of the learning.

  1. Socialization

Students connect with teachers to plan, peers to produce, and experts and community members to establish a sense of purpose for their work.

  1. 80/20 Rule

The 80/20 rule is important, as it provides the only structure of most Genius Hour learning. Whether it’s an “hour,” one day per week, or something else, it provides a kind of schedule while contrasting usefully with traditional academic “training.”

About the author:

Sahil Sayed is an Educator, Teacher, and Learner. An engineer who understood science and mathematics little better after teaching primary grades for almost 4 years now. Currently heading Science, Mathematics and ICT department at Red Camel International School, India.

Interesting posts every wednesday

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